Women-led grounds crew to make history at Little League Softball World Series

When the bright lights of the television cameras turned on this weekend at the Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, North Carolina, they illuminated more than just the players.

For the first time in the event’s 48-year history, a predominantly female ground crew will prepare and maintain the fields at Stallings Stadium. There are 16 women volunteers from across the country, supported by three other male volunteers. The women only worked the last four days of the tournament – Friday through Monday in the championship games – partly due to logistical issues and partly because of the attention they get when the tournament is televised on ESPN.

“I think it’s really great for our industry as a whole,” said Sun Roesslein, a stadium manager in Denver who helped organize the women volunteers at the LLSWS. “A lot of people don’t realize how much work goes into preparing the fields – when they come through the gate, it’s all done.”

“Hopefully they’ll see that this is a great career in general, but for women in particular,” she added. “There is definitely an untapped workforce. There aren’t very many women in this field, but there’s absolutely no reason why there shouldn’t be many more.”

Little League as an organization has been “extremely focused on women’s empowerment,” said Ashlea Nash, Little League’s director of softball development. Nash wasn’t involved in the initial talks about creating a volunteer army of female groundskeepers, but when she was substituted on, she was enthusiastic about the idea. When she started telling other people in the softball world, they shared her anticipation.

“We’re excited for the girls on the field to see that, and they can look to it in the hope that if they choose to take that experience, they can take a new career path with them,” Nash said.

Chris Ball, a volunteer who lives in Charleston, SC and has also played on the field at Stallings Stadium, is the person organizing the ground crew. He wants the number of women in field turf management to continue to grow, saying, “We’re going to let it grow eventually.”

When Ball was approached by Roesslein in January, he was all ears. Roesslein, the President-elect of the Sports Field Management Association, then sent out a blast of emails to the SFMA’s female members. Thirteen women quickly volunteered, and three more have joined the group in recent weeks.

That the numbers got so high was not a matter of course; Roesslein’s pool of potential volunteers wasn’t exactly full. Of the approximately 2,200 members of the SFMA, only about 4% – about 88 in total – are women.

Among the women working on this week’s events are a senior, a student at Texas A&M and the senior groundsmen of the Reno Aces and Columbia Fireflies, as well as women who work for companies in the lawn care industry. Their experience ranges from newbies to those who have been in the industry for 30 years. The latter group includes Amy Fouty, who works as a field service consultant for a field service company.

“It’s incredible,” said Fouty. “This is an incredible opportunity to bring a group of women together. … It’s just so cool. As in all my life, I was never sure I would have an opportunity like this.”

This week, Fouty and the 15 other women helped give players aged 10 to 12 the “major league treatment”, as Ball put it, on the field at Stallings Stadium.

They paint foul lines, set up the mound, and haul for the infield mid-game—just like ground teams in the big leagues. After the games they clean the fields and prepare them for the next competition. At the end of the day they will have played ten games in four days – four on Friday and then two each on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

One of Roesslein’s goals is to see more women in the ground crew at more sports and events, a trend already happening in golf. At the last two US Women’s Opens, about 30 women volunteers have been part of their floor teams.

This weekend in Greenville was the next opportunity for an industry to showcase its growth on national television.

“We need more women in the sports turf world because our workforce is really, really thin right now,” Ball said. “And what a better setting than that of the Little League Softball World Series [16] Experts in our industry together? To show these kids that this is an option for a future career.”

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34400652/women-led-grounds-crew-make-history-little-league-softball-world-series Women-led grounds crew to make history at Little League Softball World Series

Emma Bowman

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